Rethinking space: the #notsotinyoffice

How will you design differently? Like a lot of Architects and Designers, we’ve been asking that question. As we wait for some of our design projects to restart, we have been revisiting the different types of projects that our firm designs – especially those that bring people together. What might they look like if we were designing them now, in the Summer of Covid-19?

We don’t know yet how long this kind-of-suspended-animation is going to continue, but it’s clear that Covid-19 is not going away anytime soon. It’s also clear that, as far as buildings are concerned, there are no simple solutions. So many factors are at play, not the least of which is the impact of conditioned air inside buildings. We think that is the most serious issue for Architects & Engineers, so we are following the building science experts very closely as this evolves.

Waiting area at Buffalo General Medical Center, pre-Covid.

Healthcare waiting rooms will have fewer or no chairs, as patients wait in their cars until they are called in for their appointment. There is more heightened awareness of infection control and the cleanability of surfaces. Our healthcare projects that stopped in early 2020 are going to look very different when they restart. So will our hospitality projects, especially restaurants and conference spaces.

Large retail stores have the advantage of space, but being packed with “stuff” means they need some tweaks to make them work. Our local grocery stores have adjusted to physical distancing requirements with directional signage, better-managed checkout practices, and a little more space in usually congested areas. Small retail clients have less room to work with but the same concerns, making distancing that much more challenging.

Our education clients’ plans range widely from being 100% online in the fall term to more frequent but smaller in-person classes, and everything in between. Either way, the impact on space planning and design is going to be significant.

In our collaborative, multi-disciplinary practice, we design a wide variety of project types. Every single one of them will be approached differently in the future based on everything that we’re observing, learning, and absorbing right now. But first, we need to rethink our own office space.

At then end of 2019, we decided to move into a bigger office. After 4 years in 450 square feet, it was so exciting to think about what all that extra square footage would allow us to do. We could hire 1 or 2 people for the summer, and have touch-down workspaces for some of the freelance designers and contractors that Design Synergies & Get Fresh Industries work with on a regular basis. Especially important was the need to separate our meeting space from the materials library, and to finally have all the filing and storage that we desperately needed.

Enter Covid-19. Projects went on hold, client priorities shifted, and we retreated to our home offices while still managing all of our active projects. Just like every other design firm, we figured it out and made it work.

Reassembling furniture and unpacking all those boxes in the new space.

About a month ago, we started to shift back into the not-so-tiny office, adopting our own version of a hybrid home/office work model. That expanded meeting room won’t be needed for a while, so no new conference table and chairs are on order. The library won’t be welcoming any sales reps in the near future, but it’s probably the most organized part of the office at this point! No reception furniture needed either.

Only the necessary workstations are slowly getting set up, as we continue unpack boxes and figure out where to put it all. Physical distancing is easy with two people in 1400 square feet. There are no new hires for the summer, and no contractors working at the touchdown desks. We decided to strictly limit who comes in the office, at least until we get through the summer.

The extra time to rethink our space and our practice has been really good. Everything, from how we work with clients to how we use our space, is up for discussion. Some things, like site visits, are necessary but not difficult to do in a safe way. Meetings remain virtual, and will likely stay that way even as our part of New York State eases into Phase 4 of reopening this week. This is how we do business, for now.

Reset. Bounce forward. Be safe, be well, and wear a mask 🙂

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